Inside Dental Technology
The Best of the Best
To get the most out of technology investments, choose partners that take a personal interest in your laboratory.
When Keith Pettus, CDT, and his childhood friend and business partner, Randy Leverette, CDT, opened the doors of Capitol Dental Designs 32 years ago in Montgomery, Alabama, the revolutionary new material bursting onto the market was porcelain-fused-to-metal. Like many technicians, Pettus’ education and technical skills had been learned at the bench working alongside skilled technologists. Proctor Dental Studio, then the largest dental laboratory in the southeast, hired the partners and for 6 years, Pettus and Leverette pursued a formal education in dental technology, receiving their certifications from Emory University.
Specializing in anterior restorations, Pettus and his partner were “old school” technicians—waxing, casting, and stacking porcelain to achieve the fit, function, and esthetics their clients had come to expect. In the 1980s, being competitive in the market was localized and entailed producing a better quality product that required the least amount of chairside adjustments to help clients save chairtime. Over the next 10 years, Pettus and his partner built up a very successful crown-and-bridge business—working long hours to maintain their reputation as anterior esthetic specialists.
After a decade, however, the long hours at the bench began to take its toll. Pettus, at the age of 46, contemplated leaving the laboratory business and finding another career that would afford more free time to spend with family and friends. But he loved the profession and was at the height of his career. He was too young to leave and too old to take the financial risk of starting over. What they really needed, he decided, was a way to run the business more efficiently.
That was 2002, two years after CAD/CAM technology emerged on the dental technology scene. The ability to automate production processes while still giving their clients a consistent and highly accurate product made sense to Pettus and his partner. “Not only would this technology eliminate some of the most labor intensive processes, but we saw zirconia as a great niche product that only a few others were offering at the time, and we didn’t want to be left behind.” After analyzing the systems on the market, he and his partner jumped in with both feet and bought two milling systems. But the end product was a hard sell to their customers. The fit integrity they were getting from their milling units was nowhere near the precision they could achieve using traditional fabrication techniques, plus the cost of the zirconia milling blocks was very high and cut into their profit margin. Over the next several years they milled enough substructures to pay off their investment but held back on investing further in newer CAD/CAM systems until they could find one that could produce a good product at a fair price.
Then Pettus and his partner heard about B&D Dental Technologies in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were offering a 98-mm puck and a full-line of Origin milling machines that could produce 30 units in one milling session at a cost of $9 per unit. Their excitement about the technology was renewed, but this time they wanted to test the equipment first-hand to ensure that the fit integrity of the end product would be good enough to satisfy the demands of their quality-conscious clients. Working with B&D sales representative, Chris Favero, a hands-on demonstration using Capitol Dental cases was held at the B&D facility. “The fit accuracy was impeccable. So I did a cost analysis, and we invested in the Origin Pro Duo 7000 5-axis unit,” said Pettus.
They realized, however, that the types of high-end cases their client base were sending them could not support the capacity of this high-volume milling unit. They had to penetrate a new market to realize a quick return on investment.
Because Montgomery is the state capital, the population is heavily weighted with state employees tied to dental insurance. “When I researched the insurance codes and payments for various types of restorations, I realized insurance pays substantially more in Alabama for zirconia-based restorations than for a PFM,” says Pettus. “If we wanted to capture this market, I knew we would have to work within those cost boundaries.”
With graphic and design support from B&D, Pettus and his partner put together a brochure demonstrating the fixed costs of zirconia, the quality of the end product, and the profit margins that could be realized. It did not take long for their clients to “jump the fence to all-ceramic.” Today, 85% of all the restorations fabricated by Capitol are zirconia-based. With the savings in time and labor that milling affords plus the increased volume of work and the improved cosmetics and esthetics that can be achieved with zirconia, Pettus and his partner bought a second machine with a third unit in the plans.
“CAD/CAM is a big decision and a big investment, but the bottom line is that you have to keep your business competitive and profitable,” says Pettus. “Our business grew 20% last year, and we now have 20 employees.” As new milling materials such as IPS e.max, full-contour zirconia, and the recently introduced custom implant abutments for Nobel, Straumann, Zimmer, Brånemark, and Biomet implants have been introduced to the Origin line, they have been able to offer these new products to their customers and stay competitive in the market. “We are now able to provide our oral surgeons with hybrid titanium interfaces with custom zirconia abutments at half the cost they could get them anywhere else.” B&D supplies Capitol with the pre-milled titanium interface blanks for bonding to the custom-milled zirconia abutments.
As an “old school technician” and brought up in an era when computers were not mainstream, Pettus admits they could not have made this conversion without strong support from the manufacturer. “B&D is like our business partner,” says Pettus. “If something goes wrong, they log into my system remotely and find and fix the problem. If something breaks down, they fly a technical support person here to fix it. The company you partner with should be a strong consideration in your buying decision. You need a partner that takes a personal interest in the success of your business in order to make this technology work best for your laboratory.”
As Pettus sees it, staying competitive in the market is no longer local and is always shifting with new materials being introduced every year. CAD/CAM technology, Pettus believes, will keep the US dental laboratory market competitive in a global setting. “CAD/CAM levels the playing field. We can’t compete with cheap labor, but as the global market becomes more automated and industrialized, the cost of the machinery is the same for everyone.”
B&D Dental Technologies
The ORIGIN® Countertop 400 & 500 mill ZIRCONIA (full contour & substructures), WAX/PMMA, and TEMPORARIES with high precision and efficiency.
B&D provides in-house milling of precise custom titanium implant abutments at a significantly lower cost by using titanium blanks with pre-milled interface using the ORIGIN® Intelligence™ or 3Shape Scanners. Compatible with major platforms.
The robust and powerful ORIGIN® Intelligence™ is an open and easy to learn system for even complex restorations including abutments and bars.
The preceding material was provided by the manufacturer. The statements and opinions contained therein are solely those of the manufacturer and not of the editors, publisher, or the Editorial Board of Inside Dental Technology.
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B&D Dental Technologies